It was a matter of intent, I wanted to know what you were like. You like bowling and chess. And growing plants and cooking cakes. When you’re thinking, you bite the inside of your cheek. You hate to be interrupted. Continuing to speak your thoughts when you are, even if under your breath. You think in theory, at times lacking common sense. Your emotions only visible in your expressions. You whistle. You refer to yourself by your full name. You take pictures when no one is looking. The gap that separates your two front teeth could be the cause of your lisp. You’re beautifully ugly. And think it’s funny. You never speak with the intention to impress. You are who you are and offer no excuses. There is ease to your evasiveness. Your mystique is grounded in your impatience with being misunderstood. And having to explain. No explanation should be necessary.
That night at the bar I watched you watching me from the corner. I liked that you talked to no one, even though there were girls who, after enough drinks, found the courage to talk to you instead of about you. They pursued conversations, trying so hard. You just stood, watching me. Unembarrassed when I turned your way, we held the gaze. Then broke from it. Continually throughout the night. Constantly aware of your presence in the room, I talked to others. Then suddenly you nodded my way and turned to leave.
A couple weeks later you walked into the coffee shop where I was reading. You sat down at a nearby table and ordered. You took out a book. I watched you read. When you turned the page, you looked up. You recognized me and smiled. I sat down across from you. Hey, we said. Blushing we both turned to our books. And read. The same paragraph over and over. Feeling like I had to do something, I placed my hand on top of yours. You didn’t look up. But stopped reading, “The Rise and Fall of Communism.” My hand felt heavy. You took it, holding it in yours. And that was how we sat. After a while, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. When I came back, I asked if you wanted to go for a walk. You said sure with a strange smile.
We walked around the city for hours, then ended up back at your apartment lying on the floor in your room talking. Our voices low and sleepy. The air quiet, rich with unfulfilled expectation. And then we didn't know what to say anymore. Frozen without words. Too nervous to do anything else, I started to gather my belongings. Are you leaving, you asked. Yeah, it’s late. You didn’t say anything. Well uh, thanks I said. And turned to go. Don’t you said, grasping onto my wrist. I turned around. We stood in the middle of the room. Face to face. Surrounded by silence. We kissed.
There were rooftop barbecues. The best out of 3 chess games. Thursdays at the bowling alley and late night movie rentals. There was a weekend visit with your family. Your father, a political scientist and Allen Ginsberg look-alike. Your mother like you, brilliantly naïve and unwavering in her opinions. You talked at length about the 60-mile bike ride you took together. As a third party unaware of the implications behind the inside jokes, I listened. Pretending to know what was so funny, I laughed.
Your niece pointed at George Bush on the television. Who is that, she asked. A talking head, you said. Everyone laughed. You so funny, she said to you. The child ran into your arms. Grasping tightly onto the edge of your t-shirt, exposing your breast. Her eyes, the same blue as yours, looked sheepishly out from under her curls. She turned into your chest. Burying her face in your armpit. Trying too hard to wrap her arms around you, she hung on tight. Run she said, I want to run. You looked at me with understood irony. A look only I could decipher the meaning. We communicated, like two lovers in a foreign film. No explanation necessary.
At the bowling alley, I studied your spin. Specifically studying how you released the ball. Real bowlers don’t bowl straight balls, you told me. Looking for approval upon a strike, I turned to see you smile. You established early on that we weren’t allowed to speak during a game. Conversation interrupted your mental game and disrupted the pace, you explained. Frustrated at my inconsistency, sometimes I bowled alone to practice. You said I must correct my form and recommended that I read “Bowling: Steps to Success.” You’d already read most of it at the bookstore. I was throwing the ball, not spinning it. And don’t forget to angle your foot to the right on your last step, you said. I practiced some more.
You disappeared for a week. My phone calls went unreturned. I didn’t know where you were or what you were doing, if you were even in New York. It was a Sunday afternoon. And I was in the Village on my way home from playing Frisbee with a friend in the park. People sat on their stoops, talking to neighbors, reading the newspaper. The trees shielding the sun from their eyes. From far away, I saw the back of your head. You were playing chess with a man in front of the Chess Forum. I stopped at your side, putting my hand on your back. You looked up at me. Then looked back down at the board. I walked on.
I let myself into your place. I read until you got home. When you walked in, you silently sat down in your chair. You stared out the window. I waited. You just sat there. We’d spent afternoons that way. I asked you once what you were thinking about and you looked at me funny. I’m just thinking, I don’t know about what, you said. There were so many things I wanted to ask you, but knew if I did I’d just upset you more, so I didn’t.
I had tickets to the opening night of a film festival. I met you at the theater after work. You showed up wearing sunglasses and really tight pants. Your hair was styled and you acted affected. In the lobby before the screening I introduced you to people. You pretended like you were a director. You entertained yourself with the irony. After the movie, I commented on the fact that there was no love story. If there isn't love, it’s not cinema, you responded with fake dramatic flair. I didn't know if you were being sarcastic. It’s all just a big joke to you. My wicker furniture, the yuppies that live across from you, your job, our friends. A biting sarcastic sense of humor pervades your thoughts. Somehow you make a joke out of every conversation and situation. You so funny. Sometimes.
When the film was over, we went to the after-party. You stood in the back of the bar. I left you and went to the dance floor. You don’t dance. My roommate walked in and saw you. She once told me she was uncomfortable around you because you were so hard to talk to. Curious as to why, she wanted an explanation. I stammered to give one. But realized the futileness of my words and gave up. I shouldn’t have to justify you to anyone. I watched as she greeted you hello with a hug. You were startled by the gesture and obliged her out of politeness. Holding your body away from her ever so slightly, you later joked she contaminated you with WASP cooties. On the floor I danced to techno. A strange, sweaty boy pulled me into his body. We moved well together. I kept my eyes on you watching us. I wanted you to be jealous.
I watched in horror as you drew your knee into the girl standing in front of you. You were gone before she turned around. I left the dance floor. You were sitting at the bar. I demanded to know your reasons for doing that. I was bored you said, wasn’t it funny? I turned around to leave. But let you follow me.
The rain lightly settled in our hair as we walked down the street. You started talking about your family. Your father was from New Paltz. Though he was born in New York City. Queens. But that was during the war you said. I wasn't sure what that meant or why it mattered. Everyone was moving around then, you said in explanation when I failed to say anything. You went on to talk about your new but used corduroy love seat. I tried to figure out what it was you wanted me to say. I didn’t know how to respond besides stating the obvious. But when I speak the obvious, you don’t bother responding. The conversation drifted into the rain.
You sat next to me on the subway. I moved to put my head on your shoulder. You pulled away. Too hot you said. I asked you a question. You didn’t answer. I addressed you. Huh you responded, playing dumb. Please just answer my question, I’m not in the mood for your games. And you informed me there was a reason why you didn't answer me in the first place, it was a dumb question. At any rate, you said. And paused. I knew you had nothing to say. You just wanted to change the subject. And I could feel the tense annoyance in your voice. I wondered if I should blame, you or me. I uncrossed my legs and crossed them. I looked outside. Then read the signs above your head. I tried to think of something to say. You closed your eyes. I wondered what you were thinking, but didn’t ask. You rested your head against the railing. And kept your eyes closed.
The train came to a stop, not at my stop. The doors opened. I got up. See ya, I said. And exited. You came from behind and fell into step with me. You reached for my hand. I put it in my pocket. I didn’t know what was wrong, just that it wasn’t right. There were things I told myself. Things I wanted to believe. So did. I was tired of pretending. That bowling is an art form. And chess a battlefield. Tired of trying so hard to get through to you. Trying to guess how you were feeling, what you were thinking, and figuring out what to say next. It shouldn’t be like that. You and me. Me and you. We didn’t work. My faith in us needed to end. The words remained unspoken as I walked on, again.
The next day, you were playing the harmonica when I walked in. And continued to play. You sat in the windowsill. I lay down on your bed. I stared at the ceiling. And you played. I started talking about my day. And you played. I stopped talking. Only my mother continued to talk when no one was listening. I thought of how I’d remember you. Memories that would remain like photographs. Sitting across the table from you at brunch, the light hitting your eyes at such an angle that they appeared clear. On my skateboard, too tall to look anything but awkward. Handing me a plate of your blueberry pie saying, think cobbler. Wiping the bottom of my jeans of snow after playing football. Things that meant something only to me. I was that child hanging on tight, seeking safety in convinced beliefs. I stood up. You looked at me one last time. We held the gaze. You let go. I gathered my things. You continued to play the harmonica. I stood in the middle of the room. You didn’t look at me. I turned to leave. You didn’t follow. I walked down the stairs and thought of all the things I had left behind. That I didn’t turn back for.